The Dressing Station
By Jonathan Kaplan
Review by Andrey (Medicine)
The Dressing Station is a startling autobiographical account of just how varied a medical career can be. Jonathan Kaplan has worked as a medic in hospitals, ships and on the battlefield, travelling to some of the world’s most distant war zones. He describes numerous geopolitical conflicts he has been witness to: as a South African medical student during apartheid, stitching together injured Kurdish fighters in Iraq, and tending to the victims of Renamo during Mozambique’s civil war.
These exhilarating experiences are contrasted to the calm and comfort of working in the UK and US. He pulls metres of parasitical worms from impoverished children and tends to the stress-victims of the stock exchange. He performs skin grafts with only a safety razor and works for a multi-million US medical tech company, where patients are second only to profit. Kaplan’s experiences convince him that he is satisfied by nothing but the most extreme. Though his vocation has gained him little money, no meaningful relationships or real employment prospects, the life of an ordinary doctor seems too mundane for him. He is far more at home in a tent, re-inflating a collapsed lung with a rubber glove, than he is in a private London clinic.
It was this thought-provoking account of a Medic’s journey through the very best and worst of an immensely varied career that first sparked my interest in a profession I had not previously considered. Though few UK doctors will ever face the challenges Kaplan has so poignantly described, this book provides an eye-opening description of healthcare systems worlds apart from our own, where patients far outnumber the resources at the medic’s disposal, where local witch doctors only worsen the conditions of their patients, and where the injured are almost killed by the journey to the hospital. Few books offer such an insight into the problems doctors and nations face, and fewer still look with such piercing integrity into the fundamentals of a medic’s profession.
The Dressing Station by Jonathan Kaplan